McIlwrath welcomes approval for Agriculture Strategy Report

DUP Councillor Lavelle McIlwrath has welcomed the approval of an Agricultural strategy by Armagh City Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council.

Lavelle McIlwrath.  Picture by Philip Magowan / Press Eye.
Lavelle McIlwrath.  Picture by Philip Magowan / Press Eye.
Lavelle McIlwrath. Picture by Philip Magowan / Press Eye.

Speaking following Council approval of the report,the Portadown DEA representative said: “Some time ago Council agreed to commission an external report which sought to develop an Agricultural strategy, in partnership with the industry, with the aim of bringing forward recommendations that Council could take forward. Eight key themes of focus were identified and following extensive consultation with stakeholders across the Borough the report brought forward nine key recommendations.”

Speaking during the discussion at Council Committee Councillor McIlwrath welcomed the report saying the key headline for him was the huge financial value of the farming sector across the ABC Borough. The report estimated that the Agricultural industry was worth £376 million to the area each year. Not just that but the report also estimated that the value of the sector across three Council areas, including ABC, amounted to over one billion pounds.

Continuing Councillor McIlwrath said: “We always knew the value of the industry to the Council area was huge but now we have some very specific data which will be of great value not just to Council moving forward with the recommendations but will also benefit the wider agri food sector in the area in terms of analysis and direction as well.

“I raised a couple of pertinent points from the report which I believe to be hugely important, particularly the value of the horticulture industry to the ABC Council area representing a massive 58% of the entire NI output and dwarfing some of the more established farming sectors in terms of value to the area.

“The other issue which is significant and featured in the report is the sustainability of farming and linked to that in my opinion is the ability to have succession planning on farms and the availability of building sites for those young people wishing to stay at home and be involved in the farming business,” he added.

“Current planning policy and indeed recent Planning advice notes from the DFI minister are already having an impact on planning applications for young people who wish to remain in the industry. This must be challenged and reviewed and a policy developed that is fair to those looking to remain, work and live in many cases on the ‘home’ farm.

“Other key areas covered in the report included expanding and evolving the very successful ABC food heartland brand. Developing better lines of communication with the industry and plans to develop training with increased opportunities to ‘upskill’. The appointment of Agricultural Champions for the Borough is also included in the report which is the first report of its kind to be commissioned by any of the Councils across Northern Ireland.”

Concluding his remarks at the Council Committee meeting Councillor McIlwrath said: “The massive value of the farming industry to the ABC Council area just reinforces how carefully we need to manage policy changes which impact the sector, particularly the proposals around climate change, which if not handled sensitively and proportionately could effectively decimate the industry. The farming industry needs supported, encouraged and developed and the recommendations put forward by this report will seek to do that.”

The full report and recommendations can be accessed online via the ABC Council website.